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Exclusive - Polish billionaire Kulczyk looking at beer again, plans move into IT
October 11, 2016 / 3:01 PM / 10 months ago

Exclusive - Polish billionaire Kulczyk looking at beer again, plans move into IT

Polish billionaire Sebastian Kulczyk poses during an interview with Reuters at his Mayfair office in London, Britain October 10, 2016. Picture taken October 10, 2016.Dylan Martinez

LONDON (Reuters) - Polish billionaire Sebastian Kulczyk said he could use some of the proceeds from the sale of his 1.5 percent stake in SABMiller SAB.D to bid for the brewer's central and eastern European assets and to create a world-renowned Polish IT company.

Kulczyk also told Reuters in an interview he believed his chemical firm Ciech CIEP.WA, which he bought from the Polish state two years ago, could become a medium-sized European company within five years.

Kulczyk Investments, one of Europe's biggest private investment firms that he co-owns with his sister Dominika, is set to receive more than one billion pounds from the sale of its remaining 1.5 percent stake in SABMiller as a result of the $100 billion-plus takeover by Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) (ABI.BR) which was completed on Monday.

The steep fall in sterling after Britain's vote in June to leave the European Union has reduced the value of Kulczyk's pound-denominated stake, but Kulczyk Investments had fortunately already sold one billion pounds worth of shares in the brewer back in April, which has added to its coffers.

Asked if he was looking at SABMiller's assets in eastern Europe, Kulczyk said: "This would be a beautiful history if our investment comes full circle ... We know the assets well as we have built them up. We know the management, we know the market."

In bidding for the assets, he would face steep competition in a competitive auction that is already attracting interest from a range of brewers and large private equity funds.

Sebastian's father Jan, who died last year, made his first investments in the beer business in the 1990s when he bought Polish breweries from the state and then attracted South African Breweries International as a partner.

ABI will sell SAB's businesses in Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. Analysts estimate the assets could be valued at up to 7 billion euros (£6.37 billion). The sale process is expected to start later in October.

"I think that my father would be proud. This would be a great culmination for our beer investment," said Kulczyk, 36, adding that his company would be a "dream partner" for global investors looking to team up to bid for the assets.

MODERN TECHNOLOGIES

But while Kulczyk and his sister are keen to carry on their father's interests, they are also eyeing new investment areas.

Kulczyk, who lives in London, has set aside several hundred million Polish zlotys (tens of millions of dollars) to spend on new technologies over the next four years, mostly in Poland.

He has also started building up a team of venture capital specialists with the aim of adding modern technology assets to what remains a rather traditional, commodities-based business.

"My ambition is to create a Polish brand that would be recognised worldwide," he said.

Kulczyk has already been reshaping the group's investment portfolio to focus on five areas - chemicals, infrastructure, energy, consumer goods and new technologies.

Polish billionaire Sebastian Kulczyk speaks during an interview with Reuters at his Mayfair office in London, Britain October 10, 2016. Picture taken October 10, 2016.Dylan Martinez

As well as Ciech, Kulczyk Investments currently owns Polish utility firm Polenergia PEPP.WA, a Polish road infrastructure company and Neconde in Africa, where Kulczyk is the largest Polish investor.

Kulczyk Investments has recently forged a new strategy and company structure that envisages ploughing 40 to 50 percent of his money into "passive" investments, taking minority stakes in large, dividend-paying blue chips, while the remainder targets "active" or riskier investments.

He said Ciech was a perfect match for this new strategy and after restructuring and proper management could achieve good growth, adding that he was willing to support it, including through acquisitions, to become a medium-sized European player within four to five years.

"Let's allow the management to work and I think that in the next few months they will show us they have done the job."

Kulczyk added he would like to include companies similar to Ciech in his portfolio.

Slideshow (2 Images)

POLISH POLITICS

In its drive to expand, Ciech's management decided to list the company's shares in Frankfurt but on the Warsaw bourse its valuation has tumbled 24 percent this year after lawmakers from Poland's new ruling party suggested the previous government had sold it for too little in 2014, causing losses to the treasury.

The conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which took power late last year and favours a bigger state role in the economy, has called a halt to privatisations in the European Union's largest eastern member state.

In April officials from Poland's anti-corruption agency CBA entered the Warsaw offices of Ciech and Kulczyk Holding in an investigation into the previous government's privatisation of the chemical group.

"I'm worried that while travelling around the world I hear more and more concerns regarding Poland. I'm often asked what is going on there," Kulczyk said.

"For me the key thing is to separate business from politics. I think I will also refrain from investment in the regulated sectors," he added.

Shares in Kulczyk's utility and wind farm owner Polenergia, slumped 60 percent this year due to new regulations, which for example ban building wind farms too close to buildings.

Kulczyk said he saw Europe and Africa, where he already owns a gold mine, as interesting regions in which to expand. If forced to choose between Africa and Poland, however, he said he would opt for his native land despite the current difficulties his businesses are facing there.

"For me Poland is a natural place to look for potential investment," he said.

($1 = 0.8042 pounds)

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Gareth Jones

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